NICK WILMHOFF, 33
Vice President of Business Development
CURAtive Group, Cincinnati
For the first half of Nick Wilmhoff’s career, sales was everything. He thrived on making connections, building relationships and offering solutions—and he was pretty good at it. After graduating from the University of Kentucky, Wilmhoff found early success in several different sales roles. He sold industrial knives, industrial fasteners, plumbing supplies and vendor-managed inventory systems. He later broke into the dental industry as a manufacturer rep for a well-known dental consumables company. A dental distributor recruited him after two years of consistent growth, and he began selling radiography equipment, dental chairs, cabinetry and full office design concepts, along with dental consumables. Then, everything changed for the seasoned salesman. A close grade school friend, James Kennedy, pitched Wilmhoff an intriguing offer. A for-trade printing company and platemaker was on the market. There was a need in their region for a printer that offered better services and turnaround times without gouging clients. Because Wilmhoff and Kennedy had a shared passion for entrepreneurship and seeing people do the impossible, it seemed like a natural move. To make it their own, and expand their reach, the duo added screen printing, promotional items and large-format printing. “Starting the printing company gave us an opportunity to create a life we both wanted for ourselves, while creating jobs for creative types, dreamers and people just looking for work to support their families and supporting our great city of Cincinnati,” Wilmhoff said. This, however, wasn’t a role that Wilmhoff assumed without challenges. To start, he had zero knowledge about print. He had no problem admitting that, and like any respected sales professional, he instinctively asked questions: What is this new printing technology? How does it work? How can clients benefit? “Over the past three years, Nick has stepped in wherever he is needed without hesitation,” his nominator remarked. “There have been several times where I have walked into work the next day, and Nick is passed out on the floor because he wanted to stay to make sure a job went out on time.” He wears many hats, with his primary focuses being business development and project management—but he is customer-first always.
Why he loves his job: I always have an opportunity to wake up and face the day’s new projects and challenges. Every day I’m communicating with marketing directors, sales teams, entrepreneurs and CEOs, helping support their initiatives and finding the solutions for their biggest headaches. I have to find ways to use my time the most efficiently to effectively support our diverse group of clients.
Age roadblocks and advantages: My biggest challenge associated with my age has everything to do with my lack of experience as a manager. Coming into this venture, I had to learn on the fly; I had zero print experience and zero actual management experience. For the first six months, I had to learn the in and outs of paper, graphic design and artwork, project management and communicating with staff who range from 10 years younger than myself as well as up to 30 years older. I made so many mistakes early on; but without those learning opportunities, adjusting and moving on, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. It reminds me of a quote from Mark Twain that my dad always would repeat: “Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.” Nothing holds truer when starting a company. I found it very difficult in the beginning to find my confidence in this venture, but once I made those crucial mistakes, and the company stayed afloat, I found the confidence to view those early mistakes as learning opportunities; and I was able to prepare myself for those speed bumps when they presented themselves again.
The advantage I have is my fresh perspective that comes with living and experiencing life. I’ve had sales experience, which provided me the ability to work with people from a diverse background. I am grateful for that experience, which helped create the well-rounded perspective that allows me to effectively support my clients’ needs.
With more and more companies catering to a younger demographic, it’s crucial that I’m up to date with trends and understand the companies and the clients they serve. This can be tricky, as there is another side of that coin. The company we are working with may have budget constraints or deadlines that inhibit the scope of the printed piece. It’s all a process of delivering the best products to meet our clients’ goals, as well as growing as an individual and a company.
His biggest career influence: There are several people I can thank for helping my professional and personal development. My business partner James Kennedy, president of CURAtive Marketing, has helped to significantly decrease the learning curve I had of the print industry. He has a background in print, which has been invaluable. He thinks differently than anyone I know. He questions everything, so he can make the best decision to move our company forward. His ability to objectively assess any situation and respond with a well-thought-out action plan make him a perfect fit for the position he is in.
Mark Hephner, manager at the Cincinnati branch of Millcraft, also significantly decreased my learning curve with his Paper 101 course. He has a knowledgeable staff at his store, which we rely on every day. We couldn’t ask for a better supplier and partner for our company.
Big shout out to Reilly Williams, global supply chain management intern at TESLA as well. Reilly was our first team member at CURAtive. Reilly was instrumental in getting the company off the ground, doing whatever job necessary to move the company forward. She was an incredible source of knowledge with artwork, design and color. She was patient with me when I was learning how to talk the language and ensured the correct file type was set up for the print project at hand.
Many more shout outs are due: my dad, for his entrepreneurial knowledge and support; my father-in-law Brian and brother-in-law Chad Kleeman for spending many free weekends helping get our phones, internet and infrastructure set up for success.
Last, but certainly not least, thanks to my wife, Ashley Wilmhoff. She has been with me for the ups and the downs. She knows my energy and drive better than anyone, and knew we would make this venture successful. She continually stands by me and is always there to provide advice and help create a balance between my life and work.
His most meaningful business accomplishment: We’ve hit some significant milestones in the past couple of years. The last milestone, and maybe the most important, was moving our company for the second time in its young life and not losing momentum. We had less than four days to move equipment, office furniture, file cabinets and all the random junk you can collect over the span of a few years—all without missing a customer’s order. We had to ensure we wouldn’t miss a day of production during this process. It was a group effort of everyone in our company (even some family, too). We all came together and got the company moved.
His differentiating factor: We do a good bit of continual education. This helps us to make the most educated decision when it’s time for us to pivot the company. We also actively look for different innovative ways to grow our current client base with different offerings. This helps keep [us] current and keep steady growth. We also do a fair amount of market research when we estimate and price our products and services. We are extremely confident in our pricing and hardly ever miss a bid or estimate.
What he hopes to accomplish in the next year: Professionally, I have a goal set for $1.2 million in sales in 2020. We also will be implementing new software to automate a lot of our processes. It’s exciting to see where we are now, compared to how we started. We’ve had multiple evolutions of our company, and this year will be the most impactful. Every day I try to be a little better than I was the day before—a little kinder to people I interact with, smile more when issues present themselves and not let anything or anyone get the best of my positive mental state. I want to personally do more things to allow me to have a better mental state so that I can hit the goals I set for myself professionally.
Why he believes the future is bright: Print will never go away; it may look different than it did in the past, but there will always be a need. With new innovative custom packaging to wide format and screen printing, the industry will always thrive for those willing to take risks and evolve what they offer to their customers. We do a good job as a company looking out for those new trends.
How the industry can better recruit young talent: [I suggest] getting involved early on in college business courses and showing young entrepreneurs another industry they could thrive in. The printing industry is a great mix of creatives and abstract thinkers but also shrewd businessmen and women. It’s a great industry that balances both.
What he does for fun: I am extremely active and have a good mix of powerlifting, swimming and yoga throughout the week. I also enjoy traveling with my wife and cooking and eating good food (emphasis on the eating). I also love listening to podcasts, music and stand-up comedy. Cincinnati attracts big names in music and comedy, which makes nightlife fun when time allows.